Snatching a Tory Minority from the Jaws of Majority
With the exception of the 1979 election of Margaret Thatcher, this was the most important UK election since the Churchill government was ousted in 1945. Six weeks ago, the view was that May would win a handsome majority to give her a stronger mandate as the government headed into the Brexit negotiations. But the huge Parliamentary swing to the Labour Party left the UK on the verge of a hung Parliament.
Theresa May was left to seek her majority with support from outside the Tories. She appears to have achieved this from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Latest reports are that the PM will go to see the Queen later today informing her that she will be forming a Government.
So where are we now?
This will be considered one of the worst-run campaigns in recent UK political history. And unnecessary too. The campaign was a) a Brexit campaign and b) all about Theresa May as a strong and stable leader taking the UK into the talks. Both failed by a long mile and have weakened the UK as the country heads to the EU negotiations.
This was all about Brexit, but the Tories, and to be fair the Labour Party too, never were able to articulate what Brexit would look like. This allowed the voters to talk about all the issues which worried them most, including public services, pensions, the economy, austerity, healthcare and security,, particularly in light of the recent terrorist attacks. So what we have seen is a return to two party, left-right politics.
b) Arrogance in Labour territory
There was an expectation that the Tories would win a 50-100 majority as UKIP voters desert their party for the Tories, even in what was seen as strong Labour territory. This never happened, with both major parties seeing the UKIP vote going to Labour, as well as the Tories. A certain hubris too that the ’strong and stable’ mantra would win the Tories the day, without the detail on what Brexit would look like. This was followed by her own statements from 2016, that ’there will be no snap election’. The UKIP Leader stepped down with a possible return by Farage to lead his party, who polled down with no Parliamentary seats.
c) It’s all about May
Under the spotlight of the campaign, she failed to connect. Most of her Cabinet was largely absent, which left the PM vulnerable, as she is not a natural people person by her own admission, but nonetheless competent. Her staged meetings with the country, which were often behind closed doors with the party faithful, fell short of her ability to reach a wider audience. She didn’t turn up at the leadership debate, which was roundly ridiculed by the other Leaders. When under pressure by the media, she didn’t come across as being able to think quickly on her feet but reverted to sound bites.
d) Manifesto u-turns
A huge mistake was to alienate a large number of her core voters, especially those over 65 who a) do turn up and vote and b) vote Tory. By flipflopping on the elderly care policy (aka the dementia tax), which targeted those who needed care in later years, did not help her at all. Anyone with a total home plus asset of more than £100,000 would have to pay for their elderly care. This scared many older voters who would be forced to sell their homes should they need care in later years. This was the first time in recent history that a manifesto policy was ditched even before the election.
e) Underestimating Corbyn
As Theresa May was cold, robotic and uncaring, Jeremy Corbyn came across, despite his far left position, as a thoughtful, ’nice’ decent leader with the ability to connect with a far wider base than expected. He over-performed against all expectation, as much as Theresa May under-performed. Much of the handling of the PM’s campaign style will be down to her small inner core of advisers including Lynton Crosby, the hitherto go-to guy for global Conservative campaigns. Theresa May’s strongest card six weeks ago was her competence. This was hugely diminished during the campaign, leaving her vulnerable to her weaknesses.
So where do we go from here?
At the time of writing, it seems likely, given the Parliamentary numbers for both major parties, Theresa May will soldier on, albeit with almost no authority. The only way she achieved this is with support from the Northern Ireland DUP to take her over the line with a majority. The DUP have now become the kingmakers who may work with Theresa May on an issue-by-issue basis or part of an overall total support deal.
If this happens she could limp along, but for how long? The Tory party are ultimately likely to be ruthless with her and it is certain she won’t be leading a future campaign. Others, including Boris Johnson, will be looking at this through the prism of taking them into the top job. Short term, she may well limp on, but when the Brexit negotiations get tough, it is more likely that it would be much harder for her to continue.
The UK may well be going to the polls. Again. There has been a deafening silence from any of her Cabinet Ministers with reports that she hasn’t as yet spoken to any of them.
What now for Brexit?
Europe has always ‘done in’ UK Tory Prime Ministers, including Heath, Thatcher, Major, Cameron and now May. It matters this time more than ever, as the country starts the protracted EU negotiations. Many are now saying that this result is the death of a hard Brexit with the revenge of the sidelined and ignored Remain voters, especially younger voters. The EU knows all too well that Article 50 has now been triggered and the Brexit clock is ticking. They too will be worried about where the UK is and what mandate the PM really has. From all sides, this has been the worst outcome, making the talks even more unpredictable.
Navigator’s Brexit Response Team
If you have any questions on the implications of Brexit and its implications for your organization, please reach out to Navigator’s Brexit Response Team.